Sunday, March 25, 2012

If You Spot It, You got it.

During the first year I was getting sober my sponsor would tell me – over and over –words I just shuddered to hear. I was going to AA meetings 6-7 times each week. They were reasonably large meetings, the smallest being maybe 20+ members of the Fellowship. Listening to that many people week after week upped the odds that there would be people I just didn’t like – people who just seemed to rub me the wrong way from the very beginning. From the “git go,” as they would say in West Texas, where I grew up.
Following a meeting, I would mention, “so-and-so just irritates me,” or  “there’s just something about Henry that gets on my nerves,” or “Every time Johnny starts to share I just have to grit my teeth.” My sponsor would give me a knowing look and tell me, “Well, Donnie, what is it in them that reminds you of something you’re hiding from yourself?”  God, I hated that observation!
If I argued with him, my sponsor would gently remind me of the Twelfth Tradition: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” He would often elaborate by telling stories on himself of incidents where someone who grated on his nerves said exactly what he needed to hear at that meeting. Had he tuned them out, he would have missed the message his Higher Power wanted him to hear that day.
I learned, screaming, whining and clawing, to listen very closely to those I just didn’t like very much. It was hard for me to admit but most of the time what they shared was exactly what I needed to hear. Principles before personalities – the spiritual foundation of the Fellowship. At least I began to understand there was a reason for the Twelfth Tradition. Namely, I wasn’t the first to experience this (often) irritating truism. I wasn’t all that unique after all. I was just one of the herd – a run-of-the-mill alcoholic.
Psychologists talk a lot about the defense mechanism of Projection. So does A Course in Miracles (ACIM).  We project out attitudes/behaviors on those around us, then castigate and blame them for having those characteristics. This process saves us from having to face these behaviors in ourselves.
In a companion Glossary of Terms, ACIM describes projection in this way: We try to externalize an idea from our mind onto our perceived external world so the idea now appears to be objectively real with an independent power over us. People, especially, are animated by our own thoughts, which we cannot admit are truly inside of us. We prefer to see people as outside of us and acting on us. This description of Projection is a “… reversal of the commonsense belief that our perception is caused from without. External objects seem to be sending information through our senses to our brains, seemingly causing our perception of them. Yet our perceptions are caused internally. Over time we build up beliefs about reality. These beliefs guide our attention causing our eyes to search for those things that fit our pre-existing categories. Once we find these things, our beliefs guide our interpretation of them, and these interpretations are our perception. Our perceptions are thus projections of our beliefs, through the means of selective attention and subjective interpretation. As a result, what we see is simply a mirror, a reflection of our state of mind.” Robert Perry, Glossary of Terms from A Course in Miracles, 2nd Edition, Circle Publishing, 2005, p.83.
My former mother-in-law had a phobia about bird feathers, especially chicken feathers. She’d scream in fear at the sight of them. As a child she was terrified by the flapping flurry after disturbing a bunch of roosting chickens. My only surviving aunt, 97 years old, has an uncontrollable fear of water – baths, showers, lakes and oceans. This stems from a time, as a child, when her brothers held her under water too long for comfort. It terrified her. In both of these simplistic examples it is very clear that the perceptions of these women were actually their internal interpretation of pre-existing attitudes – about feathers or about water.
I remember a song from the 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The musical dealt with the perceived horror of interracial love and marriage – in this case a relationship between a white man and a Polynesian woman. In the lyrics of one of the songs was the refrain, “…You’ve got to be taught to hate.” That happens to all of us about everything. We are taught our beliefs about reality. Those beliefs guide our attention to what we perceive and how we interpret our perceptions. And that’s the “external world” we convince ourselves is reality. The Course says quite simply: It’s insane.
AA (as the Fellowship always seems to do!) has a much simpler way of stating all this:  “If you spot it, you got it.”
By the way, I still abhor coming face-to-face with this reality.
Thanks for listening again this week. As always – with my blessing – please share this message with your friends, family and acquaintances.

#4 March, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Forgiving and Forgetting – The Process of Salvation

Several weeks ago (“Here Comes De Judge,” #1 March, 2012) I discussed how my ego is determined to judge and by judging I keep myself separate from you, which is deadly for my spiritual growth. As long as I refuse to rein in my judging ego, my spiritual growth remains stagnant and I begin to rot.
A reader from Ireland – Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you! – emailed asking how to go about forgiving. The writer stated that she was able to forgive, but it was almost impossible to forget. “Is that still forgiveness?” She asked.
It’s a very good question. This is not the first time I’ve heard someone make this distinction between forgiving and forgetting. It seems to be a common malady among all of us: “I will forgive you, but I will never forget what you did/said.”
As I see it, the principle issue is your understanding of you. The critical question? Are you a body with a spirit or an already-loved spirit currently with a body? How I answered that – honestly – makes all the difference to me in how I approach forgiving.
As an already-loved spirit with a body, I am beginning to understand the continually interactive process of Forgiveness and Atonement: Forgiveness (asking for the Holy Spirit to help me see things differently); Atonement (Seeing things differently from the perspective of the Holy Spirit). This interactive movement of Forgiveness and Atonement (when taken as a single process) is what A Course in Miracles calls Salvation. Going through this process as a partner with Jesus is what He says I am all called to do.
I ended the message, “Here Comes De Judge,” by stating:
As long as I believe I am truly separate, my ego is in control and my spirit suffers. When I feel separated from you my spiritual growth comes to a grinding halt and I stagnate. After a while a stagnant spiritual life, just like stagnant water in a pond, begins to smell.
“The ability to not judge and the ability to forgive are very closely related. AA says simply, “The easiest way to learn to forgive is simply to learn to not blame in the first place.” Similarly, ACIM outlines 3 steps to forgiveness: 1) I forgive the projected perception of you I have created in my mind; 2) I forgive myself for creating this perception; and 3) I ask the Holy Spirit to give me another way of seeing this situation without judgment, and then I try to still my mind and listen for His whispers of Truth.”
Unfortunately, I often find myself listening to my own past experience. Which is really listening to me – not the Spirit of God! Using my own past experience to guide me is to continue to listen to my ego – to make my own meaning out of the world. By not doing this allows me the ability to really hear my Spirit Guide, or the Holy Spirit, speak to me and take his rightful place in the awareness of my higher mind.
I have to constantly remind myself that Step 3 (above) is not of my doing. It is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. When I do listen and see things differently, I am beginning to see the situation or person differently. This change in perception – this gift of the Spirit of God – is the Atonement and is the key to Forgiveness. This change of perception reinforces my ability to continue saying: "I am determined to really see with true vision! I am not the victim, potential victim nor the victor. I am an already-loved spirit currently having a human experience."
The process of “forgetting:” That’s the story of truly seeing each other as One – the end result of Salvation. When we see each other as One, there is no longer any blame or shame.
When the Spirit opens our eyes to a different reality or different perspective, it’s really as if it never happened. For me, it’s remembering that my old way of thinking is not relevant any more. Rehearsing or rehashing the issue is not relevant anymore. A simple example is an argument you may be having with your life-mate about where to eat, which simply vanishes when you come across an accident and get out to offer assistance and call 911.  In doing all that your issue of which restaurant to choose just disappears.
In AA I’ve found that often things, problems, issues just seem to melt away. I’ve had people in the Program come up to me after a meeting and ask about the status of some issue I had shared about several weeks earlier. I couldn’t recall it any more. It had simply disappeared – into thin air. When did that occur? I had no idea. Why did that occur? I had no idea. What had happened to resolve it? I had no idea. Simply – POOF!  It was just gone.
I don’t know about you, but I want more and more and more of that in my life: Forgiving; seeing things differently; and watching troubling issues just go “POOF.”
Thanks for listening and, as always, please share this message (it’s designed to be forwarded easily) with my blessings.

#3 March, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Freedom of Religion Doesn’t Mean What Some Want It to Mean

It is absolutely no coincidence that freedom of (and from) religion is the very first of the agreed-to 10 Constitutional Amendments referred to as the Bill of Rights.
In the mid-19th Century Alexis de Toqueville (1805-1859), a French historian and philosopher, toured the United States to see for himself how our fledgling democratic republic was working. The results of his observations appeared in his signature work, Democracy in America, published in 1835 (Vol. 1) and 1840 (Vol. 2).
One of his significant contributions was his observation concerning the impending opportunity of “…the majority raising formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion,” if, in fact, the democratic process spilled over from America’s arena of politics to the arena of everyday social life. This idea of de Toqueville’s led, later, Lord Acton (British Historian, 1834-1902) to coin the famous phrase: “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority….” 
In his opinion de Toqueville saw the very detrimental possibility in our society that voting on political/legal/economic policies would morph into similar “voting” on social/cultural/personal values as some form of un-official national policy. His complete observation was: “In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers [someone may write or think] what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” Remember, this was 180 years ago.
Watching some of the debates for the GOP presidential nomination and hearing some of the commentaries (both conservative – FOX – and progressive – MSNBC), I am struck by how much the religious views of our candidates play in the nomination/election process. It’s as if voters want to hear how religious and spiritual our elected (or nominated) officials say they are. How utterly inappropriate this is, according to our Constitution. As stated by Phillip E. Johnson (American Educator, 1940 -) “The restriction of religion to private life therefore does not … threaten the vital interests of the majority religion, if there is one, and it protects minority religions from the tyranny of the majority.”
This raises, for me, the question: Why is the opinion (to use de Toqueville’s term) of religion so critically important in an election cycle?
My initial answer? Fear and Ignorance. To assuage their fear and the world their fear thinks it sees, folks perceive their religious “world view” as paramount in their decision-making. They have to find something that will provide them with a certainty of faith. They have found that certainty – not in their personal transformation and acceptance in the Kingdom of God – but in the literal words of the Bible. Any verse anywhere in the Bible is the Word of God, and if verses contradict each other, then that’s an illustration of the mystery of God.
I discussed this issue in my book (pages 345-46) under the heading of “Recognizing the Dangers of Bibliolatry.”
“There is always a tension between the faith itself and our attempt to communicate it in a rational language at a given historical period. A relatively static authoritarianism, either of the Roman Catholic type or fundamentalist/evangelical type, so confuses the authority of the Church, the Bible, and the faith of the people that the tension, which is between God, as we understand God, and our human understanding, is removed. Without that tension the doors are opened to idolatry – in this case a blind worship of the Bible itself – or Bibliolatry.”
As Karen Armstrong pointed out in her book, The History of God, fundamentalists cannot conceive that I experience and think about God differently than they, which may be different from that Abraham experienced as a middle Bronze Age nomad or as Paul experienced as a first-century Jewish Roman citizen.
Back to an election cycle: It seems fearful religious conservatives have extended that belief-form (everybody everywhere thinks of God in the same way) to apply the Founding Fathers. Surely, Franklin, Jefferson and Paine, all of whom referred to “God,” must believe as we biblical literalists believe. The problem is they didn’t. They were essentially Deists. God was the prime (or first) mover. The Creator. God didn’t interfere in personal lives and liberty. Jefferson’s Bible had been all crossed-out except for those passages, especially parables, which began “Jesus said....“
When biblical literalists use a quote from Isaiah or Deuteronomy to justify their actions/beliefs they are denying the message of Jesus the Christ. He said He was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. His was the new message from God. The Gospel. The Good News – the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear. He gave us three commandments to follow, replacing the Ten Commandments of the Israelites.
But religious conservatives cling to the Old Testament and its Ten Commandments. It’s simpler. It’s easier. But it’s incorrect, and it’s a grave error when it’s used as a litmus test for politicians.
To elevate the Bible in ways that overshadow the Gospel of the Lord is a supreme sacrilege. To pursue a political end of enacting legislative laws to ensure the apparent “sanctity” of the United States so God will once again bless us above all other nations is an act of unbelievable un-love in the name of the God of love.
Thanks for listening and, as always, feel free to share this message with my blessings.

#2 March, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

“Here Comes De Judge” (or The story of My Ego)

The other day I was listening to a member of the AA fellowship discuss her encounter with an anonymous someone who had only been to several meetings. The someone wondered “how she did it” – meaning how my friend worked the AA Program and stayed sober. As my friend related the incident, she was struck by all the negative exclusions her questioner had at her fingertips. She related the standard AA directions to the newcomer: “If you want what we have, do what we do.” Then she reminded her of the 5 or 6 standard-issue suggestions of the Program: Go to meetings, Don’t drink, Get a sponsor, Pray, Work the Steps, and when tempted, Call someone – anyone – in the Fellowship.
The newcomer had responses to every suggestion explaining why she couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t work the Program like everyone else. She was too busy at home and at work. She was too involved with her church activities. It was suggested she pray first thing in the morning and read one of the steps in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. “I’m not a morning person,” she said.
Turns out she wasn’t an afternoon person, an evening person or a night person either.
She was afraid that working the Steps would conflict with her Christian beliefs. She was afraid that the bottom she believed she had hit, wasn’t bad enough to warrant her having to knuckle-down and really concentrate on AA’s “standard, run-of-the-mill” suggestions for achieving sobriety. “Why can’t I simply read through the Steps until I think I understand them? Why do I have to do a moral inventory, discuss it with someone, and eventually make amends to those I have wronged – when I really don’t think I truly wronged anyone anyway?”
I’ve heard many similar excuses before as well – as a sponsor in AA, in listening to why people believe they cannot adopt the principles of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), hearing folks make all kinds of excuses as to why they cannot begin reducing their carbon footprint or begin adopting the principles of the Simplicity Movement, and so on. In almost every case the people appear to want what they think I have, but they have all the excuses and distractions that make implementing my suggestions impossible for them.
Their actions seem to indicate they want to remain exclusively unique.
All of this got me to thinking about my ego’s use of exclusivity as one of its primary defense mechanisms. Exclusivity, exclusionism, and uniqueness lead to thoughts like: Things just don’t seem to apply to me; I’m different; My circumstances are different; I‘m unique.
Then I remember, as an active alcoholic, I almost died from a very severe case of “terminal” uniqueness. I also remember, as I began to get sober by following the suggested AA program of recovery, what a wonderful relief it was to simply identify myself as “one of the herd – a very ordinary recovering alcoholic.” Nothing special. Nothing unique about that.
That shift in my thought-process has saved my life, although I still haven’t fully realized how profound that shift actually was. I’m still learning.
The damning thing about my ego’s desire to be unique is its very subtle insistence on judging, comparing, and criticizing. As long as my ego can continue to push my uniqueness button, I will remain believing in my (and your) separateness. That’s a killer to my spiritual growth and development. That’s what’s so damning about my ego.
For me the way I try to control my ego’s desire to judge is to focus on not using the words “should,” “could,” “would,” “ought,” and “ …, but.” Many I know, if they could not use those words, would have little to say.
·      You know what I “would” do if I were you?
  • Have you ever thought you “should” try this?
  • What you say makes a lot of sense, “but” for me, the situation….
  • My life ”would” have been so much better if only I “could” have understood the implications of ….
  • Do you know what I think you really “ought” to do?
Most of these judging words come in the form of un-requested advice, and I have to remember that un-asked-for advice is generally translated by the hearer as criticism. Criticism is judging. I do it all the time, and it makes no difference if I am carrying on an actual conversation with someone or whether the conversation exists only in my head. It’s all the same to the universe. I am judging. And when I judge, I have become separate from you. I am different from you. I am unique, which has no place for you. We are different individuals.
As long as I believe I am truly separate, my ego is in control and my spirit suffers. When I feel separated from you my spiritual growth comes to a grinding halt and I stagnate. After a while a stagnant spiritual life, just like stagnant water in a pond, begins to smell.
The ability to not judge and the ability to forgive are very closely related. AA says simply, “The easiest way to learn to forgive is simply to learn to not blame in the first place.” Similarly, ACIM outlines 3 steps to forgiveness: 1) I forgive the projected perception of you I have created in my mind; 2) I forgive myself for creating this perception; and 3) I ask the Holy spirit to give me another way of seeing this situation without judgment, and then I still my mind and listen for His whispers of Truth.
So I try very diligently to stay away from “should,” “could,” “would,” “ought,” and “…, but.”
Thanks for listening and, as always, please share this message with my blessings.

#1 March, 2012